Secure San Antonio’s Future (SSAF), a political action committee formed to raise funds and campaign against three charter amendments on the local November ballot, hosted its official kick-off party Saturday morning at La Villita with City, County, and State elected officials and business leaders.
Amid the more than 250 attendees at the event to throw support behind the “Go Vote No” campaign were some former City Council members and most of the current members.
“We can’t win this without you. This is an election like no other,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “Lord knows we did not want to have to fight this fight. But Lord knows we will.”
The charter amendments, as proposed by the firefighters union, would:
- (Prop A) expand the issues voters could petition to vote on in the future and make it easier to do so;
- (Prop B) limit the tenure and drastically cap the salary of future city managers and;
- (Prop C) force the city into binding arbitration with the union over a new labor contract.
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“This is not by any means a political challenge,” San Antonio Economic Development Foundation President and CEO Jenna Saucedo-Herrera told the crowd. “This is a community challenge.”
The union’s “San Antonio First” political action committee claims the charter amendments will save taxpayer money and give citizens a voice in local government. That’s a relatively simple argument compared to the one SSAF has to make. City leaders have said the changes would impede the city’s ability to function efficiently and result in increased property taxes and fewer city services.
“Spread the word,” said Gordon Hartman, a developer, philanthropist, and owner of Morgan’s Wonderland. Hartman also is the treasurer for SSAF. “Talk to everyone you know.”
Prop A, regarding referendums and petitions, would decrease the number of signatures required to put an issue to vote from 75,000 to 20,000 and allow for more time to collect those signatures. That means instead of about 10 percent of the population, it would take only 3 precent to call for a vote, Saucedo-Herrera said. Special interests “should not make decisions for our entire community.”
Wayne Peacock, president of USAA Property and Casualty Insurance Group, said that San Antonio’s current trajectory toward more jobs and economic prosperity would be at risk if every City Council decision was “at the mercy of a few thousand signatures.”
While USAA employees nearly 20,000 people in San Antonio, Hartman said, it would also impact small business owners. Tony Gradney, owner of Tony G’s Soul Food on the East Side, testified to that.
The East Side has seen great progress and investment over the years thanks to the City and City Manager Sheryl Sculley, but Gradney said, there would be “less money resources pledged for my neighborhood” if these propositions pass.
By creating economic and legislative uncertainty – and likely tarnishing the City’s gold-star credit rating – the amendments could cost the City between $382.3 million and $4.2 billion over 20 years, according to a City-commissioned report.
The union denies the initiatives will have a negative impact on the City’s budget or ability to issue large bond packages.
“So my response is, and everyone can identify with this, our taxes go up every year now,” Steele said Wednesday. “What is the difference? So what this does, though, is it allows the people a voice to stop that from happening.”
The City has not increased its tax rate for 26 years, but has reduced it seven times. Tax bills are more influenced by public school district taxes, which make up 48 percent. The City takes about 22 percent.
In addition to adding financial stress, Hartman said, the amendment would “pit communities against one another” because special interests would easily be able to repeal funding and policy decisions that hurt or help their group. That goes for different sides of town, too, he said.
“What happens when a westside neighborhood finally gets the money for a much-need park or a new crosswalk or a police substation?” Hartman said. “Then a few people maybe on the other side of town decide they would rather have that money spent in their neighborhood? What do they do? They go out and get 20,000 signatures and they have six months to do it.”
SSAF and the City are currently embroiled in two different lawsuits with the union. The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association is suing the City in federal court for allegedly violating its First Amendment rights as union members and third-party consultants solicited signatures for the petitions associated with the ballot items. SSAF is suing the union for using $510,000 in union dues to pay for that petition consultant. A hearing on the union’s request to dismiss that case is scheduled for Monday.
“After however long it is I get to be mayor of this city, I still get to be your neighbor,” Nirenberg said. “But all that is under attack. And that’s why I’m a little upset. This is our city. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.”